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Oklahoma Downs Softball, 11-0

By David R. De remer, Special to The Crimson

Battle-tested with the toughest non-conference schedule in the Ivy League this year, the Harvard softball team was unable to keep up with No. 3 Oklahoma on its home field, and shutting down the Sooners' offense--the highest scoring in the nation--simply proved too tough of a task for the Crimson.

Oklahoma (59-8) handed Harvard (19-20, 11-1 Ivy) a devastating 11-0 loss in a five-inning game shortened by softball's mercy rule. The double-elimination NCAA Regionals will continue today, as Harvard will take on No. 5 Northwestern (28-25), in an elimination game this afternoon.

"Oklahoma's a great team, and in order for us to beat them, we needed to play a clean game and we didn't do that," Harvard Coach Jenny Allard said. "We made a lot of mental and physical mistakes."

A pair of hit batters made the bottom of the first a nightmarish beginning for the Harvard Crimson.

Suzanne Guy earned the start--her first since the three-hit shutout against Dartmouth that won the Ivy title. But in spite of her stellar Ivy play, she was unable to last the first inning against the Sooners.

"Oklahoma's a great hitting team and I knew that we needed to keep the ball down, and we knew Suzanne had a great drop ball, so we went with her," Allard said.

Guy's first pitch foreshadowed the Crimson's performance for the rest of the game. She hit Oklahoma leadoff hitter Christy Ring on her right side to start the game.

The Crimson made the night even more painful for Ring when she tried to steal second and was then hit on the ankle by the throw of freshman catcher Monica Montijo.

Erin Evans, the second Sooner batter, singled up the middle to drive home Ring, giving Oklahoma a quick 1-0 lead.

The next two Sooner hitters--Lisa Carey and Andrea Davis--hit back-to-back doubles to extend the Oklahoma lead to 3-0.

The Crimson finally recorded the first out when Ashli Barrett drilled the ball to left field. Freshman Tiffany Whitton made a great catch fading away, as she managed to hang on to the ball as it curved towards the foul line.

The next two Oklahoma batters managed to get on base by taking advantage of defensive lapses by the Crimson. At that point, Allard decided to pull Guy for junior Chelsea Thoke.

"I was surprised that defensively we came out shaky, and offensively we swung our bats aggressively," Allard said. "Generally when team's came out shaky, they're not hitting the ball, but it was the exact opposite for us."

Thoke came out looking ready to pitch against the Sooners' Leah Gulla. She threw past her twice to drive the count to 0-2. But then disaster struck.

Thoke's next pitch was high and tight, and Gulla was unable to get out of the way. As she pulled back, the ball hit her square in the face. Play stopped for about ten minutes, as Gulla was attended to by the Sooner medical staff, and the two teams regrouped.

"I had never hit anyone in the face before, so it was extremely devastating to me," Thoke said. "I knew I had to regroup. I had just had to go to the dugout and let out my frustration and anger over what I did to her."

Thoke settled down and pitched out of the inning. The next Oklahoma batter attempted a suicide squeeze, but senior third baseman Crystal Springer managed to run down the ball and toss it to McKendry for the force at home. Thoke then struck out Ring to end it.

Harvard swung their bats aggressively against Big 12 pitcher Lana Moran, but the Crimson managed just two hits. Springer's bunt single to lead off the fourth and McKendry's double deep off of the left-center fence were the only hits Harvard could manage.

Thoke managed to fool a number of the Sooner batters throughout the night. She struck out six and walked just two, but Oklahoma's skilled hitters managed to touch her up for seven runs, including two home runs.

Although the NCAA opener was a tough game for the Crimson, Northwestern--the fourth-place team in the Big Ten--poses much less of a challenge than the No. 3 Sooners. Harvard will attempt to avoid elimination tomorrow afternoon.

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